Protesters storm Cairo building after bloodbath, U.S. to review Egypt aid


Supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood stormed and torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday, while families tried to identify hundreds of mutilated bodies piled in a Cairo mosque a day after they were shot dead by the security forces.

Egypt's health ministry says 623 people were killed and thousands wounded in the worst day of civil violence in the modern history of the most populous Arab state.

Brotherhood supporters say the death toll is far higher, with hundreds of bodies as yet uncounted by the authorities, whose troops and police crushed protests seeking the return of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

State television quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the security forces would again use live ammunition to counter any attacks against themselves or public buildings.

The U.N. Security Council will meet later on Thursday to discuss the situation after a meeting was requested by council members France, Britain and Australia.

International condemnation has rained down on Cairo's military-backed rulers for ordering the storming of pro-Morsi protest camps after dawn on Wednesday, six weeks after the army overthrew the country's first freely elected leader.

The U.S. State Department said it would review aid to Egypt “in all forms” after President Barack Obama cancelled plans for upcoming military exercises with the Egyptian army, which Washington funds with $1.3 billion in annual aid.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces,” Obama said.

“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest.”

His Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Egypt's army chief that “the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk”.

Western diplomats have told Reuters that senior U.S. and European officials had been in contact with Egypt's rulers until the final hour, pleading with them not to order a military crackdown on the protest camps, where thousands of Morsi's followers had been camped out since before he was toppled.

There were reports of protests on Thursday but no repeat of the previous day's bloodbath. In Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, hundreds marched, chanting: “We will come back again for the sake of our martyrs!”

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said anger within the 85-year-old Islamist movement, which has millions of supporters across Egypt, was “beyond control”.

“After the blows and arrests and killings that we are facing, emotions are too high to be guided by anyone,” he said.

The Brotherhood has called on followers to march in Cairo later on Thursday, while funeral processions for those who died could provide further flashpoints in the coming days.

In Cairo, Reuters counted 228 bodies, most of them wrapped in white shrouds, arranged in rows on the floor of the Al-Imam mosque in northeast Cairo, close to the worst of the violence.

The mosque had been converted into a charnel house, resembling the aftermath of a World War One battlefield. Medics pushed burning incense sticks into blocks of ice covering the bodies and sprayed air freshener to cover up the stench.

Some men pulled back the shrouds to reveal badly charred corpses with smashed skulls. Women knelt and wept beside one body. Two men embraced each other and shed tears by another.

The bodies, piled there because morgues and hospitals were full, did not appear to be part of the official tally of 525 killed, which also includes more than 40 police and hundreds killed in clashes outside of the capital.

Several thousand people gathered in the square outside the mosque, chanting: “The army and the police are a dirty hand!”

In the Giza section of Cairo, Morsi supporters set fire to a governorate building, and state television said two police officers were killed in an armed attack on a police checkpoint.

“MILITARY TYRANNY”

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi removed Morsi from power on July 3 in the wake of huge protests by people frustrated at a lack of progress on economic reform and wary of what they saw as a creeping Islamist power grab.

The subsequent crackdown suggests an end to the open political role of the Brotherhood, which survived underground for decades before emerging as Egypt's dominant force after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a 2011 uprising.

“It's not about Morsi any more. Are we going to accept a new military tyranny in Egypt or not?” Haddad said.

Shocking scenes, including television footage of unarmed protesters dropping to the ground as security forces opened fire, have been seen around the world, but many Egyptians support the crackdown and resent international criticism of the army.

“What happened was the only logical way to end their sit-ins, which did have weapons and … violent people,” said Ismail Khaled, 31-year-old manager in a private company. “Thank God the police ended them. I wish they had done so sooner.”

The authorities and their allies, which control nearly all media inside Egypt, insist those inside the pro-Morsi camps were heavily armed, although international journalists have seen only limited evidence of weapons beyond sticks and rocks.

Churches around the country were attacked and many torched on Wednesday, stoking fear of an Islamist backlash among the Christian minority, 10 percent of the population of 85 million.

Cairo and other areas were largely calm overnight after the army-installed government declared a month-long state of emergency and a curfew on the capital and 10 other provinces from 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) to 6 a.m.

Most large Egyptian companies remained open and shipping sources said the Suez Canal was operating normally, but the stock exchange was closed and the central bank told all banks to stay shut. Some international firms halted production in and around Cairo, including Electrolux and General Motors.

In other examples of international condemnation, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called for the West to speak out.

“I am calling on Western countries. You remained silent in Gaza, you remained silent in Syria … You are still silent on Egypt. So how come you talk about democracy, freedom, global values and human rights?” he told a news conference.

Senior EU diplomats will meet on Monday to assess the situation and consider possible action after what Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino called a “brutal, overwhelming and inexcusable” military reaction.

But the United Arab Emirates, one of several Gulf Arab states that collectively sent $12 billion to fund the interim government, said the Egyptian government had “exercised maximum self-control”.

Back on the streets of Cairo, some spoke of their despair.

“Yesterday I cried. I think we're the furthest we've ever been from true reform or justice,” said Sara, who declined to give her last name, describing herself as a secular activist.

“I don't believe that this is going to end in one month. I think is the beginning of another 30 years of military rule.”

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Michael Georgy, Tom Finn and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Alexandria Sage in Paris and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Peter Graff and Mike Collett-White; Editing by Michael Georgy and Will Waterman

At least 51 killed in Egypt, Islamists call for uprising


At least 51 people were killed on Monday when the Egyptian army opened fire on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, in the deadliest incident since the elected Islamist leader was toppled by the military five days ago.

Protesters said shooting started as they performed morning prayers outside the Cairo barracks where Morsi is believed to be held.

But military spokesman Ahmed Ali said that at 4 a.m. armed men attacked troops in the area around the Republican Guard compound in the northeast of the city.

“The armed forces always deal with issues very wisely, but there is certainly also a limit to patience,” the uniformed Ali told a news conference, at which he presented what he said was video evidence, some of it apparently taken from a helicopter.

Emergency services said 435 people were wounded.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood urged people to rise up against the army, which they accuse of a military coup to topple the leader, threatening an escalation in Egypt's political crisis.

“The massacre at the Republican Guard defies description,” said Mohamed El-Beltagy, a leading member of the Brotherhood's political wing, on its Facebook page.

At a hospital near the Rabaa Adawiya mosque where Islamists have camped out since Morsi was ousted, rooms were crammed with people wounded in the violence, sheets were stained with blood and medics rushed to attend to those hurt.

“They shot us with teargas, birdshot, rubber bullets – everything. Then they used live bullets,” said Abdelaziz Abdel Shakua, a bearded 30-year-old who was wounded in his right leg.

As an immediate consequence of the clash, the ultra-conservative Islamist Nour party, which initially backed the military intervention, said it was withdrawing from talks to form an interim government for the transition to new elections.

A spokesman for the interim presidency, Ahmed Elmoslmany, said work on forming the government would go on, though Nour's withdrawal could seriously undermine efforts at reconciling rival factions.

The military has said that the overthrow was not a coup, and it was enforcing the will of the people after millions took to the streets on June 30 to call for Morsi's resignation.

But pro- and anti-Morsi protests took place in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, and resulted in clashes on Friday and Saturday that left 35 dead.

It leaves the Arab world's largest nation of 84 million people in a perilous state, with the risk of further enmity between people on either side of the political divide while an economic crisis deepens.

SHOTS DURING PRAYERS

A Reuters journalist at the scene saw first aid helpers attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a dying man.

Al Jazeera's Egypt channel showed footage from inside a makeshift clinic near the scene of the violence, where Morsi supporters attempted to treat bloodied men.

Seven dead bodies were lined up in a row, covered in blankets and an Egyptian flag. A man placed a portrait of Morsi on one of the corpses.

Footage broadcast by Egyptian state TV showed Morsi supporters throwing rocks at soldiers in riot gear on one of the main roads leading to Cairo airport.

Young men, some carrying sticks, crouched behind a building, emerging to throw petrol bombs before retreating again.

Footage posted on YouTube on Monday showed a man on a rooftop wearing what appeared to be a military helmet opening fire with a rifle five times, apparently in the direction of a crowd in the street below.

In the clip, which could not be independently verified, two bloodied men were shown carried away unconscious.

State-run television showed soldiers carrying a wounded comrade along a rock-strewn road, and news footage showed a handful of men who looked like protesters firing crude handguns.

The rest of the city was for the most part calm, though armored military vehicles closed bridges over the Nile to traffic following the violence.

The military overthrew Morsi on Wednesday after mass nationwide demonstrations led by youth activists demanding his resignation. The Brotherhood denounced the intervention as a coup and vowed peaceful resistance.

POLITICAL IMPASSE

Talks on forming a new government were already in trouble before Monday's shooting, after the Nour Party rejected two liberal-minded candidates for prime minister proposed by interim head of state Adli Mansour, the top constitutional court judge.

Nour, Egypt's second biggest Islamist party, which is vital to give the new authorities a veneer of Islamist backing, said it had withdrawn from the negotiations in protest at what it called the “massacre at the Republican Guard (compound)”.

“The party decided the complete withdrawal from political participation in what is known as the road map,” it said.

The military can ill afford a lengthy political vacuum at a time of violent upheaval and economic stagnation.

Scenes of running street battles between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo, Alexandria and cities across the country have alarmed Egypt's allies, including key aid donors the United States and Europe, and Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979.

The violence has also shocked Egyptians, growing tired of the turmoil that began two-and-a-half years ago with the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.

In one of the most disturbing scenes of the last week, video footage circulated on social and state media of what appeared to be Morsi supporters throwing two youths from a concrete tower on to a roof in the port city of Alexandria.

The images, stills from which were published on the front page of the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper on Sunday, could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, huge crowds numbering hundreds of thousands gathered in different parts of Cairo and were peaceful, but nonetheless a reminder of the risks of further instability.

BITTER BLOW

For many Islamists, the overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president was a bitter reversal that raised fears of a return to the suppression they endured for decades under autocratic rulers like Mubarak.

On the other side of the political divide, millions of Egyptians were happy to see the back of a leader they believed was orchestrating a creeping Islamist takeover of the state – a charge the Brotherhood has vehemently denied.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she deplored the loss of life: “All those who claim legitimacy must act in a responsible way for the good of the country and avoid any provocation or escalation of violence,” she said in a statement.

Washington has not condemned the military takeover or called it a coup, prompting suspicion within the Brotherhood that it tacitly supports the overthrow.

President Barack Obama has ordered a review to determine whether annual U.S. assistance of $1.5 billion, most of which goes to the Egyptian military, should be cut off as required by law if a country's military ousts a freely elected leader.

Egypt can ill afford to lose foreign aid. The country appears headed for a looming funding crunch unless it can quickly access money from overseas. The local currency has lost 11 percent of its value since late last year.

On Monday, British energy firms BG Group and BP said they had pulled 160 expatriate staff out of Egypt due to spreading unrest, although operations and production were not expected to be affected.

Egypt's share index lost 3.6 percent on Monday.

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Ashraf Fahim, Asma Alsharif, Mike Collett-White, Alexander Dziadosz, Maggie Fick, Tom Finn, Sarah McFarlane, Tom; Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor and Patrick Werr in Cairo and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Arab League to hold meeting on Gaza, diplomat says


The Cairo-based Arab League will discuss the Israeli attack on Gaza at a special meeting to be held either on Thursday or Saturday, a senior League diplomat told Reuters.

“We are working to gather the Arab states' permanent representatives in the Arab League to hold an urgent meeting…that could either be Thursday or Saturday,” Lebanon representative in the League, Khaled Ziadeh told Reuters.

Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Michael Roddy

Embassy attack in Egypt stokes Israeli fears of new Egypt


Retired Israeli Air Force pilot Uri Dromi remembers the day 34 years ago when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat landed in Israel to tell the Israeli people that he was ready to make peace.

Dromi, who had flown missions in the 1967 Six-Day War against Egypt, had been assigned to escort the Egyptian air crew during Sadat’s visit.

“I was standing there on the tarmac and suddenly there’s this big airliner with Egyptian markings being escorted by three Israeli jet fighters,” Dromi told JTA. “It turns and lands. The door opens and there stands Anwar Sadat, who until then had been the leader of our greatest enemy. This is one of the moments I will always cherish.”

Today, Dromi, who runs the Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center in Jerusalem and organizes briefings for journalists, is worried that the historic peace between Egypt and Israel could be unraveling.

Last week’s attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo by a mob of thousands of Egyptians has him worried.

“I think it is serious because there’s a lot of energy there,” Dromi said. “The anti-Israel sentiment was always there, but it was marginal compared to the problems Egyptians had. Now Egyptians are expressing all of their anger and frustration against Israel.”

The embassy attack, during which a mob pulled down the embassy walls, broke into the building and rampaged for several hours while six Israeli security guards were trapped inside, was the latest and perhaps most worrisome in a series of events south of the border that have Israel concerned that it faces a game-changer with the new Egypt.

Most worrisome, some Israeli officials said, was their inability to reach senior Egyptian officials quickly. Instead they had to rely on U.S. mediation.

“There were difficulties in reaching certain Egyptian officials,” a senior Israeli official told JTA. “And the real difficulty was that even when they were finally reached, their promises for quick intervention did not materialize as quickly as the situation required.”

Egyptian commandos eventually arrived to rescue the trapped Israelis, and Israel sent its Air Force jets to retrieve them and bring them home. The official said he does not expect the embassy to reopen soon but that there are contacts with Egyptian security officials.

“We are discussing how to ensure that such an attack will never happen again and what is needed to be done to secure the reopening of the embassy,” he said. “We are definitely worried. Which way Egypt is going is anybody’s guess.”

The Egyptian military council running the country quickly condemned the attack, called the rioters “criminals” and said it would launch criminal proceedings against those caught.

“The Egyptian leadership said they are committed to the peace treaty, and so are we,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told JTA. “Anyone over 50 remembers the Egyptian-Israeli wars in which thousands of people on both sides of the frontier were killed. I don’t think the people of Israel or Egypt want to go back to that.”

The 32-year-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is one of the cornerstones of Israel’s security doctrine. While it has resulted in few people-to-people ties, the pact made Israel’s southern border reliably quiet and freed up Israel’s military to focus on threats elsewhere.

“We’ve always had a saying that without Egypt there’s no war and without Syria there’s no peace,” said Yehuda Ben Meir, an analyst at the INSS think tank at Tel Aviv University. “Even when relations were cold, the peace treaty was solid.”

Under Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt from Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until he was deposed early this year, Egypt established military and intelligence cooperation with Israel. Both Egypt and Israel viewed Hamas’ growing strength warily, and Egyptian security forces tried to stop the smuggling of weapons and terrorists from the Sinai into Hamas-ruled Gaza. Since Mubarak’s ouster, Israeli intelligence officials say, smuggling has dramatically increased.

Despite a recent poll showing that more than half of Egyptians would support severing ties with Israel, most Israeli experts don’t believe Egypt will rush to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel. Most of the Egyptian political factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have said they will continue the peace treaty. Cutting off ties also would threaten the $3 billion in foreign aid that Egypt receives annually from the United States.

But Israel is concerned. The attack on the embassy came just weeks after a terrorist attack on the border between Israel and Egypt that left eight Israelis dead. Israeli officials said the terrorists traveled from Gaza to Egypt and then into Israel. Three Egyptian security officers were killed inadvertently in firefights after the attack.

“Peace with Egypt has always been a cornerstone of our strategic position in the region,” Dromi said. “Whatever else happened with Lebanon or Syria, we always had that peace to offset everything else. If this falls, there could be a chain reaction. We’re already hearing rhetoric from Jordan that we haven’t heard in a very long time.”

King Abdullah of Jordan, which is the only other Arab country besides Egypt that has a formal peace treaty with Israel, said this week that “Jordan and the future of the Palestinian people are in better shape than Israel today. Now it is Israel that is fearful.”

Israeli officials said they are working hard to repair relations with Egypt. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week also ordered Israel to speed up construction on a fence being built between Israel and the Sinai to try to stop smuggling. He said construction will finished by September 2012.

“Israel’s border with Egypt is a border of peace,” Netanyahu said while visiting the area. ”To continue the peace, there must be security and to this end a fence is necessary. Its rapid construction is important for both peace and security.”